Springsteen Philosophy – Don’t let the past eat you up.

springsteenAnyone who knows me, knows how much  I admire Bruce. He has record breaking eye sight because every time I’ve been to see him I swear he’s managed to find me in the crowd and sing right at me…

Dreaming aside, the Observer Music Monthly caught my eye in January for featuring an interview with him talking about Bush, Obama and rebuilding the American Dream.  Amidst the politics was the steely Springsteen philosophy I have come to know and love, and it had to do with learning from your past:

“you carry it with you always…You better learn how to live with them, learn the story that they’re telling you. Because they’re whispering your future in your ear, and if you don’t listen, it will be contaminated by the toxicity of your past.”

The idea of the past repeating is one that I find myself mulling over a lot, especially as I have taken a new direction and I want some change in my life. Before leaving my job I wasn’t sure if it would change anything, sometimes a change of surroundings simply moves your problems to a new area. That is, if you yourself don’t change.

drastic change often fails, just look at those unresolved resolutions we set ourselves each year. What we don’t realise is the habits we are trying to changes are just that: habits. They have evolved piece by piece over the years until they are ingrained into our character, and trying to undo those over night often leaves us frustrated, self doubting and giving up on change.

Dr. Dyer suggests that just as we created these habits, to undo them we need to work on them bit by bit, and I strongly recommend anyone who is looking for some inspiration about change and going after your dream to read his fantastic book Your Erroneous Zones. That, along with 2-3 other books and a few heroes like Bruce made me leap into the unknown.

Bruce puts it another way:

“There’s a car, it’s filled with people. The 12-year-old kid’s in the back. So’s the 22-year-old. so it the 40-year-old. So it the 50-year-old guy that’s done pretty well…so’s the 30-year-old guy that wants to get his hands on his wheel and…drive you into a tree…” you carry your past experiences with you wherever you go, even if you change jobs, move to another country, you can’t leave your past behind, but as Bruce says “who’s driving makes a really big difference where the car is going.”

We’ve all had bad experiences, heartbreak, disappointment, humiliation. I think the people who find it harder to move on are those who pretend their past isn’t there until it’s too late, or feel imprisoned by their past because that’s what we feel we deserve. The ones who survive their past seem able to acknowledge these experiences, accept them as parts of who we are, but not as dictators for our future.

Bruce asks:

“How do you manage that thing that’s eating at you, without letting it eat you?”

I don’t think there is a set answer, it’s all part of the journey of discovery. For me it was putting the brakes on a little, stopping my expectations that I could change overnight, and reward the small steps of change. Leaving my job wasn’t actually the first step, there were a number of tiny steps which culminated in the mindset that I could leave and hopefully achieve a fresh start…with all my passengers in the car.

I’d love to know about other people’s experiences of self change, how they’ve managed to do it, if they’ve kept it up and what they learned from acknowledging their own past. Especially any newly freelancing people out there!

Your chaotic thought process isn’t wrong!

Have scruffy thoughts and be proud!

Have scruffy thoughts and be proud!

Ever wish you had linear thoughts?

I sometimes think it would be nice if my ideas formulated in order, from start to finish, and grouping themselves in the correct order of importance and theme.

Only sometimes though, because I also quite like the way our brains want to naturally work, chaotically swirling and stewing ideas and thought processes like a delicious slow cooking casserole of conception.

The way we think isn’t wrong, but I think sometimes the structures we use to express our thoughts are too limited and inhibiting for creative thinking., or indeed any type of thinking.

I first started using mind maps to revise chemistry during a-level. My dad gave me a book by Tony Buzan thinking that as I had joined the class a couple of months late it might  help me focus all of the information I had to cram. It was a bit risky as I had never used diagrams to revise before, only copious amounts of linear, hand written notes.

One bedroom wall ended up covered in A2 sheets of paper with colourful diagrams and they appeared like the scrawls of someone on the verge of a breakdown, but there was a great deal of method to this perceived madness.

My creative goals for 2009

The concept works in brief by starting with a central theme, creating the main subheadings as branches leading from this, and within those branches grouping together relevant connected points or thoughts. They also encourage colour to group common themes and diagrams to stimulate your memory when trying to recall these – especially helpful when trying to remember the varying structures of aromatic amines…

For me, trying a new way of thinking paid off and every time I have a project or piece of work, I usually start with a mind map. The beauty of them is that you can come back to it, add thoughts and new ideas and unlike a list, where you’re trying to jam in more notes at the bottom of a section you thought you had finished, there’s room on the mind map to grow each section in no particular order.

The mind map I have here is a little boring, and it’s for my goals of 2009 – so should at least maybe have a little glitter…

I like using mind maps because I feel that their structure matches the inside of my head more. Above all else, I love new methods of creative thinking thinking, planning and strategies so would be interested to hear if anyone else has used these or other ways of organising their thoughts.

Persistence …and Isaac Asimov

Great science fiction writer and persistor.

In a second hand bookshop I stumbled upon a three book collection of Isaac Asimov’s First Orbits. It’s a collection of his early science fiction works with commentary in between each story with biographical details of how the pieces came to be with an evaluation of each work.  As I began reading, it seemed like the perfect choice over the New Year as it charts his “eleven years of trying” as he attempts to make a living at writing. What struck me was the methodical persistence he set about this task as if he were training to be any other profession. He spent time writing and submitting his work for sale to magazines. If a piece was rejected he would try and sell it elsewhere and if he couldn’t shift it, he moved on to writing a new piece.

There is something refreshing and inspiring reading about someone who didn’t wait for luck to seek him out, but sought opportunities persistently and resiliently. Not each piece he wrote was brilliant or earth shattering, but sometimes they were good enough and someone would buy them.

Asimov did what he loved, but actively promoted himself and his work. Was it just a case of keeping going until something stuck? Or was it his talent alone that saw him as one of the most successful science fiction writers of his time? Or a mixture of both?

Does this also translate to business ventures I wonder. Do you need to be able to produce brilliant and original ideas, or just have the stamina to promote and carry your idea to the paying people?

It has certainly given me much food for thought.

Dreaming big when starting small

Look after those big ideas and grow them

Last Wednesday I attended the £5 app meet at the Werks. I was drawn by the idea that great on line applications and businesses can be built with resistance and passion and not necessarily millions of pounds.  The main showcase for the evening was a new interactive text based adventure from the Guardian presented by Aleks Krotoski and Barry Tucker called “SpaceShip”.

SpaceShip was mostly a labour of love which then strengthened the creators’ connection to the online gaming community of the Guardian. I’m fascinated by the idea of building successful businesses out of ideas which can be developed using not a huge amount of time and resource but a lot of passion and drive.

Why is it that some small starts grow exponentially whereas some big ideas have difficulty sustaining the first few hurdles?

This is very much on my mind as I branch out onto my own. What makes some people want to start a business that will keep ticking over for years to come and those who are looking to grow, expand quickly and lunge for the big sell?

Is it just a case of persistence beating resistance? Or are some people much more skilled at seeking the right opportunity at the right time?

I suppose I am happier to believe that it is mostly blood sweat and tears, but if it requires some other x-factor that you may or may not have, or flukey timing then it’s much more scary to believe the business you have nurtured and are passionate about, regardless of how hard you work on it might never even work.

Is that what stops a lot of people working for themselves?

Carving your own path

Tomorrow is my last day of work, most of my jobs have been handed over, and my things packed up and taken home throughout the week. Looking at the contents of the sweet jar on my desk, it’s evident that no one likes butter mintoes.

I’ve had some great offers of contract work here and there when I leave which is encouraging, but I can’t shake the feeling that soon I’ll have to look after myself, no technical team on hand to fix my emails or my phone lines, no steady stream of work handed to me, no office lit and heated just waiting to house me. I remember when I was younger and my archaic laptop died on me. Many of friends had just been bought new laptops from their parents, and as I calculated my money and buried myself in indecipherable research for a new PC I remember thinking how independence seemed pretty rubbish and I would fantasise about a long lost uncle just wanting to give me a top of the range computer. Needless to say, that never happened, but I do remember the sense of pride when my computer arrived, and worked. 4 years later, that computer still exists, I had it rebuilt and gave to my parents so they could join the broadband generation.

I feel much the same today as I hand back the laptop, phone, passwords, start to calculate the pennies, and there is that same feeling that standing on your own two feet can be shaky, cold and hard. But that’s also the beauty of facing difficult things. Once you’ve conquered them, they’re no longer as uncomfortable, and just like a toddler, after all those bumps on the ground, one day your legs hold you and you walk, and then you run. One of the reasons we learn and develop so well when we’re younger is we start with a clean slate. We don’t know of anything to be afraid of, or indeed embarrassed about – quite often those bumps to the ground result in fits of giggles and praise for trying. When you’re older however, the bumps can make us feel bad and we don’t always have someone there to encourage us to take the next step.

Progress cannot be made without the setbacks, and for those who want to break out and try something new, there are plenty of people who take delight in the setback of others. It can be difficult not to let them get under your skin, but try and remember that those who tell you that you can’t, shouldn’t do something are more often than not talking from a standpoint of envy. If you are happy with your life, it is easy to be happy for others, but if there are things you would like to change, and you see someone else changing those things in their life, quite naturally you may harbour resentment.

So if people are knocking you, even though it’s hard to gee yourself up, the chances are you’re doing something right. And even if you’re not, as long as you’re learning, there’s no such thing as failure.

Be your own fan

One of the biggest influencing factors preventing us from acting the way we want to, is worrying about what other people think and how they will react to you. You’ve had a bad day at work, your boss was unreasonable and embarrassed you in front of your colleagues. After work in the pub you tell your friends all the things you should have said – but why didn’t you? Because you don’t want to upset your boss, and ruin your chance for that promotion, so you keep quiet, and continue to let him treat you in the same way.

The danger comes when we start to believe that other’s opinions are a reflection on who we are as a person. That might sound obvious, and you don’t have to be timid to be under the influence of other people’s opinions. If we feel guilty for not wanting to go to a party, but go anyway because we’re expected to, we’re compromising our own needs to keep other people happy. If making other people happy is more important to you, then there’s no need to change, but if you’re feeling as though you’re suppressing a part of you to fit in, then it might be time to become your own number one fan.

Have you ever been with a group of people and just felt as though you don’t quite fit in, but you continue to spend time with them because what’s the alternative? It might be the habit of drinking on a Friday night with work mates, when you’d be happier staying in, but you can’t do that because it’s Friday and, well, everyone’s going for a drink. Or perhaps your friends have been able to make you feel bad about something you did – leaving a party early, not calling often enough, drinking too much or not enough. If you have experienced this then you have given people the power to choose how you should feel and act when really, the only person with all the information to make the best choices for you is…well, you.

Other people are at their most powerful to influence us when we care about their opinion, but if you place stock in what others think and say about you, you inhibit your ability to grow freely as you develop with one eye on someone else’s reaction.

If everyone is your customer…then no one is your customer

It is impossible to please everyone, and why should we even try? Take for example a controversial figure like Amy Winehouse. Some people can’t stand her and think she is a talentless waste, good only for car crash tabloid exposure. On the other hand, some people love her and think she has a genius talent and gift for music. So who is right? I’ve no doubt even you might have an opinion, but for all these debates about her talent going back and forth, they don’t actually affect who she is…unless she lets them. If she never reads an article about herself again she will continue to exist, live breathe, get hungry, cry at what she finds upsetting, laugh at what amuses her, and possibly make music that she enjoys. It is the same for us. Have you ever noticed that different people react to you differently even when you stay the same? Some people like you more than others, and some people can’t stand you. I think the key is to not want to find out. The more honest you are with yourself about who you are and what you are interested in, the more you will attract people who reflect that. It is not about right or wrong, it is about differences. We would never expect an apple to taste like an orange, and yet we sometimes expect our friends to support us or act in a way we want them to because that’s what “friends do”, and likewise, they may expect that from us.

My first experience of really being myself was after university. I had some good friends at university but often felt like a square peg in a round hole and would continually try to reinvent the way I acted, forcing myself much to my own misery to fit in with people I felt I should be spending time with. After university I went to Canada on my own with a group of other travellers through BUNAC. On the first night in the hostel I had that same sinking feeling that I wasn’t going to fit in. Everyone was excited and bustling around and the two self appointed leaders of the group were telling everyone to drink up our drinks and all head out for a meal together. I felt like I was back at university and the popular clique had already managed to carve itself out. And then I spotted a boy and a girl looking with bemusement at the rest of the group as they were told to “drink up”. They had a pitcher or beer between the two of them and looked like they had no intention to hurry and didn’t care what anyone else thought. I smiled. Something told me these were my people. Over many more beers we ended up living together that year and for the first time in a long time I was completely myself and they liked me for it. This gave me confidence to trust that in an abundance of people out there, the more I am myself, the more I will meet people like myself, and spend less time with people I don’t enjoy. For the most part this has worked.

It doesn’t mean I don’t have friends who aren’t completely different from me, but I don’t expect them to change as they don’t expect me to act in a way I don’t want to. It also doesn’t mean I never accept another point of view, or someone else’s advice on something. Sometimes others can be a positive influence on us, make us try things we enjoy but ultimately, the choice is yours. IT’s the same for criticism, it only counts if you believe it and if you believe it, use it to improve.

Next time someone disagrees with something you’ve done remind yourself that for every argument there is a counter argument- be your own number one fan. If you’re happy with your actions, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. If you’re not happy with your actions, don’t regret, them seem them as an opportunity to learn. You don’t need to tell that person, but you can tell yourself and as long as you agree with yourself nothing else much matters

On a side note – I’m wondering how long this optimism is going to last.

Ploughing to Prevent Regret – Monday 3rd Nov 08

Getting away from it all

Getting away from it all

I am writing this from a cottage in a remote location as a result of doing something I have always wanted to do. For years I have had a romanticised notion of packing up and getting away from everything to take a holiday on my own, and for years I have denied myself. Convinced that people would think I was strange, my friends would be offended, my parents would worry about me being alone, I would get bored, I wouldn’t be able to travel anywhere (I don’t drive), it would be expensive and dangerous. I finally plucked up the courage to use some holiday days (unnecessary as I resigned since then) and go. A bit of research found somewhere that ticked the boxes and even some of my friends thought the idea sounded fantastic (though some thought I was a little odd!). Today is day three and as I look at the beautifully cloudy and green country landscape, with the cosy lamps on and the Aga murmuring behind me, my only regret was that I hadn’t done this sooner. How often do we finally take the plunge with a dream only to discover it wasn’t as difficult as we first thought, and wish we had done it sooner?

Regret can be painful, but it is a useful indicator of dreams we wish to pursue. Failing to learn from your current regrets may see you continue to notch up missed opportunities and become consumed with the idea of what might have been if only…

We learn from regret by recognising the situations where we wished we had acted differently, and preparing ourselves (ploughing – I’ll come to this a little later) to act differently in the future. We can spend hours regretting something we have or haven’t done, and though we are recognising the situation, often we’re not actually learning from it, we’re not focused on moving forward, we’re stuck, immobilised by regret.

The Bonus Feature “Alternative Ending” – currently not available in the DVD of life.

My dad has an interesting perspective on regret, which almost always leads to getting knocked over by a truck. He can turn any regret into an “alternative ending” which, although undoes your regretful action…well… watch for yourself:

ME: “If only I hadn’t thrown away that receipt I could have swapped these shoes for a better pair…”(great sadness and bad feeling in the stomach)

MY DAD: “Ahh yes, but let’s say that you still had the receipt, you went back to the shop and swapped your shoes, but in your excitement at the new shoes, you run out from the shop, into the road and get hit by a truck…and then die.”

I have heard my dad say this many time and though the logic is simple, it is a great exercise in perspective and helps you stop thinking too much about some of the “what ifs” in the world. Looking at what could have happened is useless if we’re hoping it will happen through time travel, but if we’re assessing it based on how we can act differently in the future (saving the receipt till I’m sure I like the shoes – always helpful if you’re flat footed but get seduced by heels every time you’re in a shop…) then it is an essential part of growing.

Growing, ploughing? Has the countryside gone to your head?

Perhaps, but stay with me on this one…

Regret often indicates a desire for something we were unable to achieve: asking someone for a date, speaking your mind in an argument, not completing that essay in time or treating someone badly for example. The 20:20 vision of hindsight oversimplifies the situation and it is easy to either beat yourself up about where you went wrong, or dismiss that there was anything you could have done to change the outcome: “They would probably have said no…I’m just not confident enough…I had too much on at the time…he shouldn’t have provoked me.”

Does this sound familiar? Neither of the above is enabling us to learn from our past and grow…and that brings us back to ploughing.

To grow crops you have to prepare the land. You can’t just throw seed down on a nice looking field of grass and hope you turn it into Barley. Have you ever seen a ploughed field? It looks muddy, messy and clumsy – the best foundation for change into something new. And that is what’s needed to change our actions over our current regrets. I’ve got many things I wished I had done that I hope to pursue and giving up my job is probably the muddiest and clumsiest thing I could do! But change doesn’t always have to be so drastic I don’t think. Sometimes bitesize changes can be just as, if not more helpful in undoing our habits which generate the same results.

Bitesize change – the fear vaccination

To go after something we regret not doing, most people have to get over the fear that has prevented them from getting it in the past. Fear of seeming selfish, fear of rejection, fear of embarrassment or fear of failure. These fears can seem terrifying enough and to start the change we have to open ourselves up to small doses of the uncomfortable feelings of being embarrassed, rejected and failing. Pretty much like a vaccination. A small change repeated again and again can soon form a better habit, until we’re no longer worried about being embarrassed because it’s happened so often you realise you can survive it. Such “bite size” exercises can help vaccinate you against your fears so that current regrets are opportunities to learn and not just excuses to drink vodka and listen to country music…

Some Bitesize change exercises could be inviting someone out for a drink (and not minding if they say no), asking a question in a meeting about something you don’t understand, giving someone a compliment and meaning it. Anything which inches you outside of what you’re comfortable doing means the next step shouldn’t be so big…and so on and so on.

My biggest fear is failure, but rather than the Bitesize approach I’m taking a leap into the unknown. I suppose we just need to watch this space and see what happens to me!